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Healthy Soils, Clean Waters: RCPP in Action

The Milwaukee River, a major tributary to Lake Michigan, is plagued by degraded water quality, due in part to high levels of phosphorous, sediment and bacteria from stormwater runoff. In 2016, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) and partners created the Milwaukee River Watershed Conservation Partnership (MRWCP), which is designed to work with farmers and landowners upstream to help address the river’s water quality challenges.

The MRWCP was awarded $1.5 million by the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), a stakeholder-driven program administered by the Natural Resources Conservation Service. Twenty-four partner organizations are contributing funding and resources to leverage the RCPP award.

The RCPP project is focused on water quality and soil health. Practices like no-till farming, grassed waterways, and cover crops are being implemented by farmers. These practices have beneficial impacts on both water quality and soil health, building organic matter and increasing water retention in soils.

Throughout the project, outreach has been a critical component to educate farmers and landowners on the benefits of conservation practices and how upstream conservation efforts can have local and downstream water quality benefits. MRWCP has engaged agri-business entities in putting on demonstration workshops and agricultural innovation field days, and in helping with conservation practice installation. The MRWCP also encourages producer-led groups in Ozaukee, Sheboygan, and Washington counties to promote information sharing on conservation practices and their impacts on soil and water conditions in the watershed.

Another component of the project helps landowners acquire easements on priority agricultural lands in the watershed. Agricultural conservation easements preserve agricultural lands in perpetuity, ensuring that working lands remain working and that they cannot be developed into impervious surfaces.

As of January 2019, MRWCP partners have contributed $2 million to leverage the awarded RCPP funding. NRCS has obligated $460,500 of the $1.5 million to landowners who have designed and installed practices on nearly 3,000 acres so far. Additional conservation practice implementation is planned throughout 2020.

Three Agriculture Land Easements (ALE) were protected in 2018 and 2019 through the MMSD’s Working Soils Program with cost share funding from NRCS. By the end of 2021, the programs are scheduled to preserve seven additional agricultural easements.

The MRWCP is a shining example of how RCPP funding can stimulate the establishment of a coalition of diverse partners, both upstream and downstream, to address natural resource challenges facing urban and rural communities.

More information on the project, events and results can be found the MMSD Working Soils webpage.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program is a partner-driven approach to conservation that funds solutions to natural resource challenges on agricultural land. By leveraging collective resources and collaborating on common goals, RCPP demonstrates the power of public-private partnerships in delivering results for agriculture and conservation.

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